This book offers original accounts of a number of central social phenomena, many of which have received little if any prior philosophical attention. These phenomena include social groups, group languages, acting together, collective belief, mutual recognition, and social convention. In the course of developing her analyses Gilbert discusses the work of Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Max Weber, David Lewis, among others.
This new essay collection by distinguished philosopher Margaret Gilbert provides a richly textured argument for the importance of joint commitment in our personal and public lives. Topics covered by this diverse range of essays range from marital love to patriotism, from promissory obligation to the unity of the European Union.
Does one have special obligations to support the political institutions of one’s own country precisely because it is one’s own? In short, does one have political obligations? This book argues for an affirmative answer, construing one’s country as a political society of which one is a member, and a political society as a special type of social group. The obligations in question are not moral requirements derived from general moral principles. They come, rather, from one’s participation in a special kind (...) of commitment: a joint commitment. This theory is referred to as the plural subject theory of political obligation since, by the author’s definition, those who are party to any joint commitment constitute a plural subject of some action in a broad sense of the term. Several alternative theories are compared and contrasted with plural subject theory, with a particular focus on the most famous — actual contract theory — according to which membership in a political society is a matter of participation in an agreement. The book offers plural subject accounts of both social rules and everyday agreements, and includes discussion of political authority and punishment. (shrink)
One of the most distinguished living social philosophers, Margaret Gilbert develops and extends her application of plural subject theory of human sociality, first introduced in her earlier works On Social Facts and Living Together. Sociality and Responsibility presents an extended discussion of her proposal that joint commitments inherently involve obligations and rights, proposing, in effect, a new theory of obligations and rights. In addition, it demonstrates the extensive range and fruitfulness of plural subject theory by presenting accounts of social rules, (...) scientific change, political obligation, collective remorse, collective guilt, shared intention and an important class of rights and obligations. (shrink)
The everyday concept of a social group is approached by examining the concept of going for a walk together, an example of doing something together, or "shared action". Two analyses requiring shared personal goals are rejected, since they fail to explain how people walking together have obligations and rights to appropriate behavior, and corresponding rights of rebuke. An alternative account is proposed: those who walk together must constitute the "plural subject" of a goal. The nature of plural subjecthood, the thesis (...) that social groups are plural subjects, and the relation of these ideas to Rousseau's and Hobbes 's, are briefly explored. (shrink)
What is it for a group to believe something? A summative account assumes that for a group to believe that p most members of the group must believe that p. Accounts of this type are commonly proposed in interpretation of everyday ascriptions of beliefs to groups. I argue that a nonsummative account corresponds better to our unexamined understanding of such ascriptions. In particular I propose what I refer to as the joint acceptance model of group belief. I argue that group (...) beliefs according to the joint acceptance model are important phenomena whose aetiology and development require investigation. There is an analogous phenomenon of social or group preference, which social choice theory tends to ignore. (shrink)
Margaret Gilbert presents the first full-length treatment of a central class of rights: demand-rights. To have such a right is to have the standing or authority to demand a particular action of another person. Gilbert argues that joint commitment is a ground of demand-rights, and gives joint commitment accounts of both agreements and promises.
This article explores the question: what is it for two or more people to intend to do something in the future? In a technical phrase, what is it for people to share an intention ? Extending and refining earlier work of the author’s, it argues for three criteria of adequacy for an account of shared intention (the disjunction, concurrence, and obligation criteria) and offers an account that satisfies them. According to this account, in technical terms explained in the paper, people (...) share an intention when and only when they are jointly committed to intend as a body to do such-and-such in the future. This account is compared and contrasted with the common approach that treats shared intention as a matter of personal intentions, with particular reference to the work of Michael Bratman. (shrink)
This paper introduces the author's approach to everyday ascriptions of collective cognitive states as in such statements as we believe he is lying. Collective epistemology deals with these ascriptions attempting to understand them and the phenomena in question.
Typical agreements can be seen as joint decisions, inherently involving obligations of a distinctive kind. These obligations derive from the joint commitment' that underlies a joint decision. One consequence of this understanding of agreements and their obligations is that coerced agreements are possible and impose obligations. It is not that the parties to an agreement should always conform to it, all things considered. Unless one is released from the agreement, however, one has some reason to conform to it, whatever else (...) is true. In this sense, one is under an obligation to the other parties. The relevance of these points to the issue of political obligation is discussed. (shrink)
This paper argues for a methodological point that bears on a relatively long-standing debate concerning collective beliefs in the sense elaborated by Margaret Gilbert: are they cases of belief or rather of acceptance? It is argued that epistemological accounts and distinctions developed in individual epistemology on the basis of considering the individual case are not necessarily applicable to the collective case or, more generally, uncritically to be adopted in collective epistemology.
In everyday discourse groups or collectives are often said to believe this or that. The author has previously developed an account of the phenomenon to which such collective belief statements refer. According to this account, in terms that are explained, a group believes that p if its members are jointly committed to believe that p as a body. Those who fulfill these conditions are referred to here as collectively believing* that p. Some philosophers – here labeled rejectionists – have argued (...) that collective belief* is not belief but rather acceptance. This paper presents several arguments against rejectionism. One has to do with the proper methodology for arriving at an account of belief. Two address rejectionist claims to the effect that collective beliefs* lack key features of belief in general, the features in question being “aiming at truth” and having a particular relation to the will. A fourth notes that there is a phenomenon more apt for the label of “collective acceptance” than is the phenomenon of collective belief*. (shrink)
Among other things, this paper considers what so-called collective guilt feelings amount to. If collective guilt feelings are sometimes appropriate, it must be the case that collectives can indeed be guilty. The paper begins with an account of what it is for a collective to intend to do something and to act in light of that intention. An account of collective guilt in terms of membership guilt feelings is found wanting. Finally, a "plural subject" account of collective guilt feelings is (...) articulated, such that they involve a joint commitment to feel guilt as a body. (shrink)
The author develops and elaborates on her account of collective belief, something standardly referred to, in her view, when we speak of what we believe. This paper focuses on a special response hearers may experience in the context of expressions of belief, a response that may issue in offended rebukes to the speaker. It is argued that this response would be appropriate if both speakers and hearers were parties to what the authors calls a joint commitment to believe a certain (...) proposition as a body. This joint commitment puts speakers under an obligation to refrain from speaking in certain ways, and gives hearers a correlative right to such refraining, and hence a basis for offended rebukes. (shrink)
The question whether and in what way languages and language use involve convention is addressed, With special reference to David Lewis's account of convention in general. Data are presented which show that Lewis has not captured the sense of 'convention' involved when we speak of adopting a linguistic convention. He has, In effect, attempted an account of social conventions. An alternative account of social convention and an account of linguistic convention are sketched.
This article offers a critique of Thomas Scanlon's well-known account of promissory obligation by reference to the rights of promisees. Scanlon's account invokes a moral principle, the "principle of fidelity". Now, corresponding to a promisor's obligation to perform is a promisee's right to performance. It is argued that one cannot account for this right in terms of Scanlon's principle. This is so in spite of a clause in the principle relating to the promisee's "consent", which might have been thought to (...) do the trick. Most likely this argument can be applied to all "moral principle" accounts of promissory obligation. An alternative both to these and to "social practice" accounts is needed. (shrink)
This article will compare and contrast two very different accounts of convention: the game-theoretical account of Lewis in Convention, and the account initially proposed by Margaret Gilbert (the present author) in chapter six of On Social Facts, and further elaborated here. Gilbert’s account is not a variant of Lewis’s. It was arrived at in part as the result of a detailed critique of Lewis’s account in relation to a central everyday concept of a social convention. An account of convention need (...) not be judged by that standard. Perhaps it reveals the nature of an important phenomenon. Looked at in that light, these very different accounts are not incompatible. Indeed, neither should be ignored if one is seeking to understand the way in which human beings arrive at some degree of social order. (shrink)
A feature of David Lewis's account of conventions in his book "Convention" which has received admiring notices from philosophers is his use of the mathematical theory of games. In this paper I point out a number of serious flaws in Lewis's use of game theory. Lewis's basic claim is that conventions cover 'coordination problems'. I show that game-Theoretical analysis tends to establish that coordination problems in Lewis's sense need not underlie conventions.
Collective action is interpreted as a matter of people doing something together, and it is assumed that this involves their having a collective intention to do that thing together. The account of collective intention for which the author has argued elsewhere is presented. In terms that are explained, the parties are jointly committed to intend as a body that such-and-such. Collective action problems in the sense of rational choice theory—problems such as the various forms of coordination problem and the prisoner’s (...) dilemma—are then considered. An explanation is given of how, when such a problem is interpreted in terms of the parties’ inclinations, a suitable collective intention resolves the problem for agents who are rational in a broad sense other than the technical sense of game theory. Key Words: rationality • collective action • collective intention • joint commitment. (shrink)
A number of authors, Including Thomas Schelling and David Lewis, have envisaged a model of the generation of action in coordination problems in which salience plays a crucial role. Empirical studies suggest that human subjects are likely to try for the salient combination of actions, a tendency leading to fortunate results. Does rationality dictate that one aim at the salient combination? Some have thought so, Thus proclaiming that salience is all that is needed to resolve coordination problems for agents who (...) are rational in the sense of game theory. I argue against this position; rational agents will not necessarily aim for the salient. It remains to explain how the salient comes to be chosen by human beings. Various possibilities are noted. One involves a mechanism invoked by Hume and Wittgenstein in other contexts: we may project an unreasoned compulsion onto reason, falsely believing that rationality dictates our choice of the salient. (shrink)
Philosophers using game-theoretical models of human interactions have, I argue, often overestimated what sheer rationality can achieve. (References are made to David Gauthier, David Lewis, and others.) In particular I argue that in coordination problems rational agents will not necessarily reach a unique outcome that is most preferred by all, nor a unique 'coordination equilibrium' (Lewis), nor a unique Nash equilibrium. Nor are things helped by the addition of a successful precedent, or by common knowledge of generally accepted personal principles. (...) Commitments like those generated by agreements may be necessary for rational expectations to arise. Social conventions, construed as group principles (following the analysis in my book On Social Facts), would suffice for this task. (shrink)
Can teams and other collectivities have preferences of their own, preferences that are not in some way reducible to the personal preferences of their members? In short, are collective preferences possible? In everyday life people speak easily of what we prefer, where what is at issue seems to be a collective preference. This is suggested by the acceptability of such remarks as ‘My ideal walk would be . . . along rougher and less well-marked paths than we prefer as a (...) family’. One can imagine, indeed, that each member of a given family prefers something other than what the family prefers. What, then, do the collective preferences of everyday understanding amount to? (shrink)
This paper challenges the common assumption that an agreement is an exchange of promises. Proposing that the performance obligations of some typical agreements are simultaneous, interdependent, and unconditional, it argues that no promise-exchange has this structure of obligations. In addition to offering general considerations in support of this claim, it examines various types of promise-exchange, showing that none satisfy the criteria noted. Two forms of conditional promise are distinguished and both forms are discussed. A positive account of agreements as joint (...) decisions founded in a joint commitment is sketched. It is argued that the example agreements represent especially clearly the normative structure of social union. (shrink)
This is how A. John Simmons sets the scene for his discussion of political obligation in his book Moral Principles and Political Obligations, one of the best known contemporary philosophical treatments of the subject.
I argue that obligations of an important type inhere in what I call 'joint commitments'. I propose a joint commitment account of everyday agreements. This could explain why some philosophers believe that we know of the obligating nature of agreements a priori. I compare and contrast obligations of joint commitment with obligations in the relatively narrow sense recommended by H. L. A. Hart, a recommendation that has been influential. Some central contexts in which Hart takes there to be obligations in (...) his sense are contexts in which there are obligations of joint commitment. Nonetheless, different senses of 'obligation' appear to be at issue. (shrink)
Can it ever be appropriate to feel guilt just because one's group has acted badly? Some say no, citing supposed features of guilt feelings as such. If one understands group action according to my plural subject account of groups, however, one can argue for the appropriateness of feeling guilt just because one's group has acted badly - a feeling that often occurs. In so arguing I sketch a plural subject account of groups, group intentions and group actions: for a group (...) to intend (in the relevant sense) is for its members to be jointly committed to intend that such-and-such as a body. Individual group members need not be directly involved in the formation of the intention in order to participate in such a joint commitment. The core concept of joint commitment is in an important way holistic, not being reducible to a set of personal commitments over which each party holds sway. (shrink)
How is one to act so as to do as well as possible according to one’s ranking of the possible outcomes? How—as it may be put—is one to act rationally? Sometimes the possible outcomes are not under one’s own control: an outcome is a combination of one’s own and another agent’s action. Often, then, one must try to work out what the other agent will do, in order to do as well as possible in one’s own lights. It is situations (...) of this sort—situations of “strategic interaction”—that most concern the game theorist. (shrink)
Tomasello frequently refers to joint commitment, but does not fully characterize it. In earlier publications, I have offered a detailed account of joint commitment, tying it to a sense that the parties form a “we,” and arguing that it grounds directed obligations and rights. Here I outline my understanding of joint commitment and its normative impact.
Russell Hardin writes from a particular perspective, that of rational choice theory. His broad—and ambitious—overall project is to “understand the sway of groups in our time” or, in an alternative formulation, “to understand the motivations of those who act on behalf of groups and to understand how they come to identify with the groups for which they act”.
This is a review essay of Christopher Kutz's Complicity: Ethics and Law for a Collective Age, and Jonathan Bass's Stay The Hand of Vengeance: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. Topics addressed include the nature of collective intentions and actions, the possibility of collective guilt, the moral responsibility of individuals in the context of collective actions.
One of us [Gilbert, M.. “Collective Belief and Scientific Change.” Sociality and Responsibility. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 37-49.] has proposed that ascriptions of beliefs to scientific communities generally involve a common notion of collective belief described by her in numerous places. A given collective belief involves a joint commitment of the parties, who thereby constitute what Gilbert refers to as a plural subject. Assuming that this interpretive hypothesis is correct, and that some of the belief ascriptions in question are (...) true, then the members of some scientific communities have obligations that may act as barriers both to the generation and, hence, the fair evaluation of new ideas and to changes in their community’s beliefs. We argue that this may help to explain Thomas Kuhn’s observations on “normal science”, and go on to develop the relationship between Gilbert's proposal and several features of a group of physicists working on a fundamental physical theory called “string theory”, as described by physicist Lee Smolin [Smolin, L.. The Trouble with Physics. Mariner Books: New York.]. We argue that the features of the string theory community that Smolin cites are well explained by the hypothesis that the community is a plural subject of belief. (shrink)
Drawing on earlier work of the author that is both clarified and amplified here, this article explores the question: what is it for two or more people to intend to do something in the future? In short, what is it for people to share an intention? It argues for three criteria of adequacy for an account of shared intention and offers an account that satisfies them. According to this account, in technical terms explained in the paper, people share an intention (...) when and only when they are jointly committed to intend as a body to do such-and-such in the future. This account is compared and contrasted with the common approach that treats shared intention as a matter of the correlative personal intentions, with particular reference to the work of Michael Bratman. (shrink)
May social unity - the unity of a society or social group - be a matter of sharing values? Political philosophers disagree on this topic. Kymlicka answers: No. Devlin and Rawls answer: Yes. It is argued that given one common 'summative' account of sharing values a negative answer is correct. A positive answer is correct, however, given the plural subject account of sharing values. Given this account, those who share values are unified in a substantial way by their participation in (...) a joint commitment. Some consequences of such sharing of values for the liberty of the people involved are noted. (shrink)
This essay explores the nature of an important collective emotion, namely, collective remorse. Three accounts of collective remorse are presented and evaluated. The first involves an aggregate of group members remorseful over acts of their own associated with their group's act; the second an aggregate of persons remorseful over their group's act. The third account posits, in terms that are explained, a joint commitment of a group's members to constitute as far as is possible a single remorseful body. Construed according (...) to this account the remorse of a nation that has wronged another nation is liable to make a particularly important contribution to international peace. (shrink)
Do people have obligations by virtue of the fact that a given country is their country? Actual contract theory says they do because they have agreed to act in certain ways. Contemporary philosophers standardly object in terms of the 'no agreement' objection and the 'not morally binding' objection. I argue that the 'not morally binding' objection is not conclusive. As for the 'no agreement' objection, though actual contract theory succumbs, a closely related plural subject theory of political obligation does not. (...) Plural subject theory may be the truth in actual contract theory and should be explored in its stead. (shrink)
What is a social rule? This paper first notes three important problems for H.L.A. Hart's famous answer in the Concept of Law. An alternative account that avoids the problems is then sketched. It is less individualistic than Hart's and related accounts. This alternative account can explain a phenomenon observed but downplayed by Hart: the parties to a social rule feel that they are in some sense 'bound' to conform to it.
This essay focuses on what patriotism is, as opposed to the value of patriotism. It focuses further on the basic patriotic motive: one acts with this motive if one acts on behalf of one's country as such. I first argue that pre-theoretically the basic patriotic motive is sufficient to make an act patriotic from a motivational point of view. In particular the agent need not ascribe virtues or achievements to his country nor need he feel towards it the emotions characteristic (...) of love. Why should one ever act on behalf of one's country as such, if one does not particularly admire it or feel a special affection for it? In answer to this question I offer a further articulation of the basic patriotic motive, invoking a particular understanding of what it is to be the member of a political society. Building on this articulation I then consider how one might characterize a patriotic act, a patriotic person, and the relationship of patriotism and pride. (shrink)